The ordinary past tense

Also known as: the imperfect, anadyatana-bhūta (“past action not of today”), laṅ

Basic meaning

The ordinary past tense technically refers to past actions that occurred before today. But in practice, it refers to any past action.

  • रामो लङ्काम् अगच्छत्
    rāmo laṅkām agacchat.
    Rama went to Lanka.

  • रामः सीताम् अपश्यत्
    rāmaḥ sītām apaśyat.
    Rama saw Sita.

Note the a- at the beginning of each verb:

  • गच्छति → गच्छत्
    gacchati → agacchat
    goes → went

Many of the tense-moods that describe past events will use this a- sound.

Endings

Here are the endings of the ordinary past tense as used with the stem naya:

 SingularDualPlural
3rdअनयत्
anayat
अनयताम्
anayatām
अनयन्
anayan
2ndअनयः
anayaḥ
अनयतम्
anayatam
अनयत
anayata
1stअनयम्
anayam
अनयाव
anayāva
अनयाम
anayāma

Notice that many of these endings are shortened versions of the present tense endings. Endings that end with -i lose that -i:

  • नयति → अनयत्
    nayati → anayat

  • नयसि → अनयः
    nayasi → anayaḥ

  • नयामि → अनयम्
    nayāmi → anayam

  • नयन्ति → अनयन्
    nayanti → anayan

And endings that end with the visarga lose that visarga:

  • नयावः → अनयाव
    nayāvaḥ → anayāva

  • नयामः → अनयाम
    nayāmaḥ → anayāma

Using verb prefixes

If the verb uses a verb prefix, we add that prefix before the a-:

  • परिगच्छति → पर्यगच्छत्
    parigacchati → paryagacchat
    goes around → went around

Why does this happen? In early Sanskrit, verb prefixes were ordinary uninflected words that could occur anywhere in the sentence. Here is a simple example:

  • परि ग्रामम् अगच्छत्।
    pari grāmam agacchat.
    He went around the village.

In later Sanskrit, however, these words are almost always placed just before the verb. And over time, they were treated as a single word:

  • परि अगच्छत् → पर्यगच्छत्।
    pari agacchat → paryagacchat.